2023-04-06 Maundy Thursday
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The next time you’re in the line up at the grocery store, take a look at the magazine covers. You’ll notice something you probably haven’t noticed before. The front covers almost always showcase women, but more specifically, beautiful fashion models. Slim and trim people who have been Photoshopped into North American beauty standard perfection! And generally, this is what you see on the magazine covers. Faces and figures, all selling you health, happiness and other unmentionables. But if you notice, there are seldom, if ever, popular magazine covers displaying … feet.
Have you ever seen that?! I know I never have! And yet feet are arguably one of the most important parts of the body. They come in all shapes and sizes. But seldom are they talked about. They may be neglected even, dry and cracked and sore. Yet they are a 100% necessary body part that take us everywhere! They are seldom talked about in songs or lauded in poetry. Are they not brought up in conversation much, unless you are at a podiatry convention! Yet the best selling book of all time heralds feet. St. Paul quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (52:7) says “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom 10:15). King Solomon says in his song, “How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O noble daughter!” (7:1).
And then, we come to tonight. Maundy Thursday. The night of the passover, that triumphal feast of the Hebrews celebrating their great deliverance from slavery in Egypt at God’s mighty hand. In the middle of this sacred meal, Jesus gets up and does the unthinkable. Stooping low, taking the form of a common slave, He washes His disciples’ feet. The Lord and Master, Saviour of the universe shows incredible humility. It’s no show. No act. No charade. This He does honestly. He reveals to the disciples and us that He is none other than the suffering servant that Isaiah proclaimed.
The Jewish laws and customs of the day were very rigid. There was no innovation. No rampant individualism like what we have in our day where everybody does their own thing and still pretend we have some kind of unity holding us together as a people. The Jewish laws were followed by every Jew. The customs and traditions were maintained. End of story. The head of the house sat at the head of the table. The servants sat at the lowest possible place, or at another table in a different room altogether! But Jesus was always a bit of a disturber or sorts. And this night was no exception. He rises from the passover meal and shatters the norms, proving once and for all that He has come to be the servant of all.
This was in the face of the disciples who sat around the table fighting over which one of them would be the greatest. Jesus “said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (LK 22:25-27). And John’s Gospel paints the picture even clearer as Jesus rises and washes the disciples’ feet. Jesus redefines the meaning of greatness and servanthood.
There was the story of a Syrian priest who became a Christian while working in India. In that country they still have a very strong caste system, a ranking of important people down to the worst and lowest of the low. The Indian congregation wanted their priest to serve the most important people communion first and then move on down to the lowly ones. The Syrian priest simply waited until the next Sunday where he responded by serving the lowest caste people first, all the way up the ladder to the folks at the top before personally receiving Holy Communion the very last.
Christianity truly obliterates all notions of a caste system. There are no classes of people in the eyes of Christ. There are only sinners and repentant sinners! St. Paul hammers this message out in Galatians: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:27-28). There is a oneness in Christ. Jesus shows us this in real life. He gives a Spirit that unites not divides. The world loves division between people. The conflict is what sells in the news. Country vs. Country. Men vs. Women. Rich vs. Poor. Smart vs. Dumb. However, this is not of God. For He has given us a pattern of unity. And, it begins with the commandment to love one another.
That is an interesting Bible Study in and of itself. You can look up “love” and “one another” and see what you find. You’ll see a bunch of verses showing up in John’s Gospel and his letters. Verses like “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 JN 3:11); “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 JN 4:7); “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 JN 4:11). And, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 JN 3:18). This love Jesus embodies. His washing the disciples feet is none other than a unity in humility and love.
Also, this foot washing was but a show of middle eastern Hospitality. In those hot desert climates where people wore sandals 100% of the time, feet would get pretty nasty. Stinky. Sandy. Grimey. Just think of a 4 year old camping! You get the idea. When visitors arrived at your house, servants would wash the guests feet, making a visit a whole lot more pleasant! This was part and parcel of their culture. We hear about it clearly in Luke’s Gospel, chapter seven. “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” (LK 7:37-38) The Pharisees give Jesus some static about this woman being a sinner. But Jesus said “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair” (LK 7:44). It was the sinful woman who showed hospitality, not the ‘righteous’ Pharisee.
Several other places in the Scriptures, hospitality is emphasized, from Abraham entertaining angels unawares (Heb 13:2) to Jesus lauding welcoming the stranger (25:38). And so this foot washing becomes the hospitality put into practice. Peter refutes Jesus’ offer saying ‘no way’ at first but then wanting Jesus to wash everything. But Jesus links it to Holy Baptism saying “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you” (JN 13:10). We are washed clean in our Baptism, yet we still confess our sins and receive cleansing, just like washing feet.
Ultimately, this foot washing is connected to the Cross. This supper with the disciples were some of the last events of our Lord’s earthly life and ministry. He shows His love. He cleanses the world. And so, the unsung, unheralded feet are proclaimed. We remember our Lord’s humility, His hospitality and His great love shown in deed and truth. Whenever you look down at your feet, remember the Gospel. For how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. Amen!